March 6, 2009


Britain's Great Right Hope: The Tories' long comeback is finally on the verge of success. Are Republicans paying attention? (James Crabtree | March 3, 2009, American Prospect)

David Cameron -- or Dave, as he likes to be known -- is in some ways an oddly conventional Tory savior. Unlike Margaret Thatcher (a shopkeeper's daughter) or John Major (whose parents were circus performers), Cameron is a son of privilege, having attended Eton, England's most famous private school, and Oxford, where he was a member of the Bullingdon, an exclusive -- and famously destructive -- drinking club. Like George W. Bush, and quite unlike Britain's current prime minister, Gordon Brown, he largely ignored politics in his youth, in favor of parties and girlfriends. (Also like Bush, he has never denied experimenting with cocaine.) However, after leaving college in 1988, he turned down a job as an accountant to take a junior position as a Conservative Party staffer. He rose quickly, becoming both an adviser and speechwriter to various senior politicians, including John Major, whom he briefed prior to Major's weekly appearances at Parliament's boisterous Prime Minister's Questions. But, seeing the writing on the wall for his increasingly unpopular party, Cameron left politics in 1994 to take a well-paid job as a senior executive at one of Britain's biggest television companies.

From this private-sector perch, Cameron was able to watch his party's crash unfold. In truth, the rot set in before he left, beginning in 1992 when Britain was thrown out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), a national economic humiliation that scuttled John Major's government almost before it began. Major struggled for another five years -- his only electoral victory was really a reflection of the weakness of his opponent, Labour's wordy, balding Neil Kinnock -- and his administration was notable only for the completeness of its disunity and the regularity of its sex scandals. (One minister was caught wearing a Chelsea football uniform in bed with his lover; others were caught hiring prostitutes or having affairs with staffers. One was even found dead, following sexual misadventure, naked with a piece of orange peel in his mouth.) The party was intellectually exhausted and morally bankrupt. The only surprise about Tony Blair's eventual victory was the size of his landslide. [...]

[Cameron] began to talk about the need to achieve "progressive goals by conservative means," talking up provision of state services by the nonprofit sector -- in practice, not dissimilar from American compassionate conservatism's faith-based initiatives but without the religious overtones. Both he and Osborne jumped on the bandwagon of behavioral economics, in particular the thesis of Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler in their 2008 book, Nudge, which Cameron believed was a way of achieving social change with limited state intervention. He ventured into a number of traditionally left-wing policy areas, from defending Britain's National Health Service to combating inner-city poverty and worrying about social mobility. Cameron began talking about the environment, adopting the phrase "vote blue, go green" (blue is the color associated with Britain's Conservatives) and even taking a famous trip to a melting Norwegian glacier, where he was photographed riding a team of huskies.

All of this was tied together in a roughly coherent narrative about the need to repair "broken Britain," allowing the new leader to attack Labour on its home turf while also talking about traditional Conservative moral issues (such as teen pregnancy or welfare reform) without coming across as "anti-poor."

You'll be forgiven for momentarily thinking he was describing George W. Bush. It took the Tories a decade to figure out they needed to return to Thatcherism, not fight it. Hopefully our Stupid Party learns the lesson more quickly.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2009 8:40 AM
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